As the day approaches when a federal judge learns whether federal agencies have been able to reunite all detained families that have been separated, we hear in Las Cruces at dawn that these agencies appear to have fallen far short of their mandate. There is chaos and disappointment in the air as we talk to people from all walks of life, of different ethnicities and faiths. We have been on a listening tour on both sides of the borderlands. We have met many people who are doing the work of social justice. We have wandered from Nogales, Arizona and Sonora to El Paso, Redford, Marathon and Marfa, Texas. We have met migrants and refugees from many Central American and Mexican landscapes who just want to be safe. They don’t want to leave their homes but their choices are stark: Be killed, have your son taken by gangs, your husband beat you up, or leave. It has been an emotional journey as we have seen how women, men, and children are hurt by shifting policies and practices.
An encounter we had yesterday in a taqueria in Tornillo, Texas brings to light how policies of separating families hurts everyone. Americans on both sides of the border… both brown and white. The federal Emergency Management employees we talked with were firm in their belief that the children are being well taken care of, as one of them told us, “far better than they were in their countries.” Yet both of the men believe that the policy of separating families was not only counter-productive, chaotic and difficult to manage… A Customs and Border Control officer with whom we met in Marfa, Texas implied the same. All three of these government employees suggested that it would be more productive to invest in Mexican and Central American communities and to support stability in their economies.
In Tornillo, Kristy caught the eye of a mother who was eating her lunch with her daughter at the adjacent table. She was giving a serious side eye to the men from the Emergency Management agency. These two women had a very different story. The mother had applied for a job in the cafeteria of the detention center for unaccompanied teenagers so she could help comfort these children and feed them. But she did not take the job that was offered to her, because three friends warned her against it.
The three who worked there all quit because they were so distraught over the conditions and not being allowed to interact with the children. As Kristy spoke with her, the daughter turned around and added “Yeah, it is really messed up.” The cafeteria workers were not even allowed to interact with teenagers held at the Tornillo detention center.
We are still processing all of these encounters. Border policies are complex, but at present, no one is winning anything as a result of recent shifts. And yet, while we have heard stories of distress, we have seen so many signs of hope. There are so many people mobilizing to help with much needed humanitarian work that we are humbled by their tenacity and spirit. These selfless women and men deserve our support and thanks. We come away from this journey ready to do our part in our respective communities. #WeAreOneNation
Written by: Gary Nabhan and Kristy Nabhan-Warren